REVIEW: Promises in Death by J.D. Robb
Dear Ms. Robb:
I have had an up and down relationship with the In Death books since the series went hardcover. Happily for me, Promises in Death marks an upswing, an effective blending of the police procedural and personal aspects of Eve Dallas’s life and a particularly moving storyline featuring everyone’s favorite ME, Morris.
When Eve is called to a homicide scene in an apartment basement, she is shocked to find fellow cop and current Morris squeeze Amaryllis Coltraine the victim. Stunned to death with her own weapon, stripped and divested of her ID and weaponry, and left on the cement basement floor of her own building, Coltraine offers very few clues about what happened and why. Was it a rat? Was it someone she helped put away? Was it another cop? No matter who ended Coltraine’s life, her death is particularly difficult for Eve. Not only does she have to tell Morris what happened and pry into their relationship for clues, but she also has to look at other cops as possible suspects and deal with the resentment of Coltraine’s own squad, who are shut out of the investigation, except as subjects for questioning. As Eve works to unravel the answer to this mystery, she is under the additional pressure of hosting Louise’s bridal shower at her home, which will involve a slumber-party invasion of virtually all the women in Eve’s circle, including the dreaded Trina. And since Roarke will be accompanying the men to Vegas for a bachelor party, Eve will be on her own for the shower. Which makes it a toss up as to what is scarier: not figuring out who killed Coltraine or playing hostess for a girly-girl party.
One of my difficulties with some of the more recent books in this series has been the integration of the police procedural aspects and the personal aspects of Eve and Roarke’s life. Or the lack thereof. In Promises in Death, though, I felt that there was a nice balance between these two elements of the book, perhaps because the involvement of Morris created a natural bridge between the two. Because of Amaryllis’s relationship with Morris, and because she was a cop, Eve feels particularly invested in this case, and she finds herself having to work as cop and supportive friend simultaneously. It is a sign of Eve’s growth as a character that she does not run screaming from the more human aspects of her work here, even as she flails a bit in trying to offer comfort to Morris:
“God. Oh, God, it was horrible. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It made me sick inside, just sick to knock on his door. To know I was about to break a friend in two. I have to find the answers for him. It’s more than a job.”
Eve’s struggle, though, strikes true to the short time she has been circulating more deliberately in the world of human emotion, and I appreciate that, because I am one of those readers who is wary of rapid progress in Eve’s character. Since my reading timeline for the series is close to Eve and Roarke’s relationship timeline, I am not in a hurry for Eve to get it together and settle down into marital normalcy. I like the fact that she’s still kind of clueless emotionally. For example, when Coltraine’s death brings up the issue of safety, Eve is shocked to find out that Roarke is afraid for her nearly all the time:
He gave her a look filled with amusement and frustration. “You’re smart,” he corrected, “you’re skilled. But not always as careful as you might be. I married a cop.”
“I told you not to.”
While I realize that not all the books in the series will allow for this kind of interweaving, it really works here, because so many of the core issues between Eve and Roarke are implicated in the investigation, and Eve is beginning to understand how her independence affects Roarke in ways she cannot really change but that are important to recognize. By the same token, the balance of power between them relative to the care-taking is more overtly confronted, with Eve trying, in her own way, to pay Roarke back for his attentiveness.
“I was going to do it – get dinner, I mean. One of the fancy things you like, because – Hell.” . . . “I can’t pay you back with sex or salt-crusted sea bass or whatever because you’re too busy taking care of me. So now I’ve got this black mark in my column against the bright shiny star in yours, and – ”
He tipped her head up. “Are we keeping score?”
“No. Maybe. Shit”
“How am I doing?”
“Good. I like to win.”
This gentle sparring, the natural competition between Roarke and Eve, is characteristic to their relationship from the start, and it is effective here, as well, because it allows them to work around some of the deeper emotional issues between them without creating too much discomfort. That discomfort is commonly associated with Eve, but in Promises in Death we are seeing some of Roarke’s issues more clearly, too – his need to remain in control, the compensation for his fear of losing Eve, the logic behind his sometimes not so gentle coercion of Eve, the man who hates to lose at and to anything, including his wife. Although I wish more of Roarke’s psyche would be mined through these books, I think we are getting to see more pieces of his character, balancing out some the idea that Eve is screwed up while Roarke is perfect. I have never found him to be perfect, and have always felt he was pretty controlling, so I am glad that we are starting to see this part of him more clearly addressed.
One other thing that Promises in Death does really well is that it allows for the secondary characters to move through the book without too much artificiality. The hilarity of the bridal shower, complete with Peabody’s “party pajamas,” bellinis, a drunken comparative analysis of the sexual satisfaction McNab, Leonardo, Dennis Mira, and Roarke can deliver, Mavis’s baby, and even the scary Trina, seems totally unforced. For a moment, Eve even thinks that she and Trina might have a shot at a civilized relationship as Trina gives Louise props for being able to fall in love and marry a former LC:
Just as Eve relaxed, as she considered there might be some skinny patch of common ground here, Trina turned, and her eyes went to slits. “Now what the fuck have you done to my hair? Hacked at it, didn’t you? Just couldn’t let it alone or call me in to deal?”
“I didn’t – I only. It’s my hair.”
“Not once I put the scissors to it, sister. You’re lucky I’m a genius and a humanitarian. I’ll fix it, and I won’t shave it bald down the center to make my point.”
Even Summerset has some good moments that transcend the standard bickering with Eve at the front door. And despite the lighter moments in the book, the elements of the story involving Morris are touching and emotional without being maudlin. Eve does not do sentimental well, and in this book, there is a good balance between fostering her emotional growth and not pushing too hard for her to be more open. I must confess that I skipped the two (I think there were two) sex scenes between Eve and Roarke, because I always feel I’ve read them a hundred times, and the language just tends to get a little too purple for me. I started to read the first one and realized that it was better if I just closed the door on the lovers and left them to their privacy.
As for the murder plot, I guessed the who and part of the why pretty early on, but I don’t really hold that against the book because I see the series as Romance with a side of suspense and don’t expect to be surprised by the killer’s identity. However it was interesting in this book, because a name from Roarke and Eve’s past emerges in a way that adds another layer of personal importance to Amaryllis Coltraine’s death, and there were some solid tie-backs to several earlier books and plot lines, creating a nice sense of series consistency. Eve is still dealing with the implications of a choice she made in an earlier book, and since I saw that choice as uncharacteristic, I am still not comfortable with the way this scenario is playing out. In the same way that Eve is making slow progress in shedding more than 20 years of trauma, I find it hard to believe that she was able to shed a similarly embedded belief in the law as the final arbiter of justice. It is this part of the series, the way in which Eve is still negotiating the grayness of Roarke’s moral code with the black and white nature of hers that I find to be the most problematic, the most un-nuanced aspect of her character evolution. Also, it feels more and more like Eve is virtually unchecked in the authority she has, despite the involvement of Cher Reno in securing warrants and making the case stick. To me, one of the uninvestigated conflicts in the books emerges from Eve’s commitment to the rules and the sometimes seemingly absent checks in the In Death world of law enforcement.
However, none of that was not enough to ruin my enjoyment of Promises in Death, which provided me with an extremely satisfying sojourn into the world of some of my favorite fictional characters. With a big dose of sorrow and a large dollop of celebration, this book worked the whole emotional gamut and made some nice connections to past books. A definite B+ for me.
This book can be purchased in hard cover from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.
Thank you for the review. I can’t wait for my copy to arrive!
Good review! My copy is on order and I can’t wait to get it.
I can’t wait either to read this one. It’s a real mark of excellent writing to me that after how many books now, I’m still excited as can be to get my hands on the next one. I can’t imagine being this invested in any other series that I would still be totally on board 27 some odd books later.
These are a large part of my “in case of” books – you know the ones that are front and center and easy to get hold of in case of emergency.
My copy is also on order! Janet, I’m glad to hear that some of the balance has been restored in this one. As “In Death” is the only series that is an automatic buy for me, even in hardback, I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed in the last one. Your review has given me hope that this installment is back on track.
Color me green with envy that you got to read the book early…next Tuesday can’t come fast enough.
Great review…makes me want the book even more.
what choice do you mean? not that I disagree, just that I’m not sure what you’re talking about. or would that be too spoiler-ish?
Glad to see the great review.
Can’t wait ’til this one comes zinging to my Kindle.
Thank you Janet. I probably should not have read the review since I still have the previous book to read, but Promises In Death sounds like a lovely read (and I have a soft spot for Morris….and Charles :)
I’m not sure if it is spoilerish or not, as there has been a lot of discussion about this when Creation in Death was reviewed, but I think it refers to what Eve did
when she asked Roarke to do something regarding the killer’s right to die contract. I didn’t feel bothered by this because it’s not as if Eve interfered with evidence to convict the killer but rather on how justice would be administered to him after his conviction, which was pretty much certain. She just made sure that he gets it in a way that is deserving of his crime instead of being able to take a shortcut.
Can’t wait to read this book.
Becca: Brenna has it right vis a vis Eve’s decision in Creation.
I know that there are many readers who mark that decision as a function of Eve’s growth as a character, but for me, her staunch commitment to the structure of the justice system, her ability to work within the rules, even while pushing them almost to the point of breaking, is a fundamental character trait. So while I appreciate that her relationship with Roarke has made her more sensitive to the gray areas, and even less rigid in certain ways, I see her choice in Creation as a divergence from something that is as basic to how I’ve known Eve Dallas as the facts of her past and the characteristics that make her who she is as a woman and a cop. So for me it was a character inconsistency rather than a mark of character development. Although I know that not everyone would agree.
orannia: I tried to write the review with as few spoilers as possible. Hopefully I didn’t ruin anything for you, and I’m sorry if I did.
I didn't see it as character â€œgrowthâ€ per se. But neither did I see her decision as being out of character for Eve. To me, she's always been about justice. The structure of law and the NYPSD are central to who she is, but her decision didn't violate that for me so much as reinforce it, in a backwards kind of way. She made the choice with her eyes wide open and took responsibility for it. But I do understand why not everyone sees it that way.
I'm looking forward to Promises if for nothing else than because Nora said we finally learn Morris’ full name LOL.
Thanks for the review. I’m delighted you enjoyed the book.
I’m with KristieJ- I’m looking forward to this one! And I too have re-read this series many times!
And I think that’s a true testament to Nora that this series has lasted as long as it has, and still holds the readers’ attention. Not to say that ALL of them have been spectacular, but even the “lesser” ones are far and away better than most books you find out there.
( Is it Tuesday yet???)
OK, I understand now the controversy about Eve’s decision in CREATION.
Eve has used Roarke’s ability to make computerized records go away before, when she told him to go ahead and make the official records of her past go away, particularly when it had potential to open her up to blackmail from the rogue Homeland Security agent (was that in DIVIDED? I remember the story vividly, just can’t recall the name of the book.) so I guess I saw this as all of a piece with that decision. I didn’t see her decision in CREATION as circumventing the laws as not allowing the bad guy to get away with a loophole in the law.
It’s a mark of Nora Robert’s art that she has been able to sustain such interest in the characters through how many – 30? – books and stories now. Lois McMaster Bujold and Nora Roberts are the only two writers I can think of who can sustain that kind of involvement in characters over so many books and still keep the stories and characters fresh.
I want MY copy! NOW!
I can’t wait…oh I guess I have to. I’ve already warned the family. Big do not disturb sign around my neck next Tuesday. I always look forward to Robb/Roberts but thanks to your review. ugh!!!!
I just have to chime in. Read it, loved it! I’ll wait until the book’s in general circulation and then come back to comment.
Becca: It was Divided where Eve let Roarke erase those old records, but I thought that was a bit different because the only one impacted was Eve. And it was for her privacy, because she was being observed and no one was helping her. If anything, it made getting traditional justice more difficult because the paper link between her and those who watched her be victimized was eliminated. And when Roarke proposed that larger sense of justice, she refused permission. To me, the decision Eve made in Creation was more similar to the one Roarke wanted to enact in Divided as opposed to the erasing of those records, but your interpretation may be different.
library addict: I understand what you’re saying, it’s just that for me Eve’s pursuit of justice has always been conducted from a context of deep respect for the system and its various limits. Obviously it’s a matter of extent, though, since using Roarke’s equipment is not exactly legal, either. So I can see how people read that choice as fitting Eve’s character. For me she simply crossed a line that can’t be re-crossed, and IMO it changes the nature of her relationship to the law and the way she’s been defined thus far. We’ll see how and if it changes things as the series progresses. I would expect that such a jump would change things in future books, but that remains to be seen.
Anyone else wonder if Nora planned to kill off Amaryllis from the very beginning?
I got mine from Amazon.uk and loved it. Some really great scenes. It was a little less angsty than I had predicted.
Regarding the erasing the record. I have always viewed that when it boils down to it, the victim and justice are the most important things to Eve. So her actions didn’t seem out of character.
I’m not reading the whole review because I’m still a few books behind and deathly afraid of spoilers (I promise I will after I read this book), but I’m so excited for this if Morris is featured more prominently. He’s always been one of my favorite characters :) So excited for this book now!
I couldn’t stand it, I went to Nora’s website and read the excerpt. I try to avoid them for a reason. It just left me hanging. mean, mean thing to do to myself.. Again uhg!
does anybody know morris’ first name. i read the excerpt too and it feels like i have been waiting forever to get my copy.
Did anybody see the book commercials last night during Bones, for this book? And was anybody else as shocked at how weak the commercial was? I feel bad for Nora-that was the worst book commercial I have ever seen…
Yes, I do. And his brother’s name. Can I mention it? I’m reading Promises in Death right now and I’m in the bridal shower part. I’m thoroughly enjoying it and have bookmarked several parts that I thought was great. Wait till you get to the DLE Urban thing Roarke gave to Eve! Awesome!!!
I haven’t read it yet either, but there has been so many comments about the relationship between Eve and Summerset. I like it fine because I don’t find it one dimentional as some readers find it. I find it has nuances that make it interesting, and I hope they continue in that vein.
I find the relationship between Summerset and Roarke a little wierd. How did he go from being a father figure, which he still is in some ways, to being his man servant, to the extent that he calls him “Sir”? On the one hand he is one of Roarke’s most trusted confidants, and on the other he is a servant. How did that power shift happen, even if Roarke became super rich, I wouldn’t have thought servant. To me it is a jarring transition.
By the way what happened to all the other servants? The first time Eve had supper there, they were served by Human servants, who seem to have dissapeared since. It seems incredible that Summerset can take care of that huge house by himself.
It was weird at first in the beginning of the series when he sounded more like a butler than a father figure. Maybe that is just the impression they like to create together with the outside world. And Summerset seemed rather reserved and is not the touchy/backslapping type of person. Roarke, on the other hand, while he did live with Summerset, was very much his own man. And when Roarke asked him to come with him, Summerset probably decided that he wanted to take care of Roarke and, in his usual reserved and â€œlove for orderâ€ kind of person, prefers to do it that way. But as the series progresses, you can see that there is a bond between the two and while they recognize that they don't say it too often and loudly, the trust and love is there. I remember them having a heart to heart talk in one of the books (can’t remember the title). A short one but rather meaningful
There are some very, very good moments in PID between Eve/Summerset and Roarke/Summerset. He even calls Roarke ‘boy” in one instance.
I just finished reading the book and I loved it. I was afraid that maybe the bloom had finally come off for me after “Salvation In Death” which was the first one I did not like, and the only one I haven’t read again.
I totally agree about the affection between Roarke and Summerset, and I get the relationship between them as it is now. I just don’t get the butler thing.
He does not just run the house, but in all intents and purposes he seems to be the only servant in the house. Given the size of the house, that is not logical. But why a butler. I remember in “Glory In Death” when Eve left without a word, and Roarke was asking Summerset where she had gone , and him telling Summerset not to fuck with him. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t know anybody who talks to their father like that. I also find it weird when he calls him Sir.
Yet they do have those tender father/son moments, and yes there was a very nice one in this book.
For all those who think the relationship between Eve and Summerset is all just snappy, there is some really good moments in this one too.
I am happy to see Callender back, and I agree with Jane the tie in with a previous story line was very interesting.
Sorry I meant to say Janet in my last comment, I know you are the one who reviewed the book.
The fact that they have other servants has been mentioned in several books, as has the fact that Roarke prefers live help to droids. We just do not usually see them – LOL.
I enjoyed Promises but there were a few over-the-top cutesy moments for me . I felt the tie-in to the villain of a previous book worked on multiple levels.
I've always seen the Eve/Summerset dynamic as multi-layered. Their sniping at each other is one of the things I look forward to in each book. Underneath it they have grown to respect each other. I also enjoy the few and far between scenes when Eve is practicing what she will say to Summerset. I like the way Summerset uses their confrontations at the front door to remind Eve to eat and gage her injury level/mood in case he needs to notify Roarke. Summerset takes care of Eve in his own way.
This book is required to review from me as a part of my study. I have finished chapter one and two. I think the writer made the story difficult to understand.